The food can be found everywhere, but I hesitate to eat it unless it’s popular. The few restaurants with other customers usually serve rice noodles, a basket of leaves, and some kind of meat in a bowl of hot broth. The variations include giant aquatic freshwater snails, boiled lightly then reheated with the rice noodles, different pork meats, and tofu. The noodles can be bean (clear) or they can white (rice). It seems safe, but please remember, don’t eat if you are the only one.
The size of the restuarant doesn’t matte, just its popularity. A small place can serve many; if a big place serves few, the food might wait for consumption for longer than you want to know about. I saw one snakehead fish rotating on a skewer for two days. On the second day, it had a few winged insect friends morning its demise. Of course, the tourist district and the multinational corporations operate their standard fare, but once you find a good “fow bow” place (with the noodles, leaves and rice, don’t bother. You can eat only once a day if you eat “fow bow.” There are also quite a few quick, portable foods that are considered a “special trieat” by my 70 year old neighbor.
“These are a very special treat, from the war” recounts Dr. Hoang. “If you had these, it meant that you had friends in the army.” I broke off a piece of the Russian tea cookie reluctantly, trying to break the shifty feeling as he discussed the “War of Reunification.”
“I thought they were just Russian tea cookies;” I innocently drew out a longer commentary.
“During the war, these cookies were used because just one is enough for a whole day; it’s all you need.” The old professor began to really grin as he observed my lack of eye contact and abdominal discomfort. The prospect of a job teaching for him seemed less and less profitable and more risky than I could imagine. “If you are busy, and have lots of things to do, you can just eat one of these. They have dried milk, so you don’t need other food.” I didn’t disagree. The South Georgia beatings I received after writing an expose of parking tickets as taxes might not be as bad as what I heard of the Hanoi Hilton, but I haven’t had the time to get tortured in a year or two. These cookies are made of wheat, some kind of oil, and egg or milk protein. They aren’t that remarkable, but they are cheap and vacuum packed, so if you have a really sick sense of humor, you can carry them in your pocket as you wander the streets.
There are supermarkets, but the prices are reversed. The clothes, and chocolates don’t cost what they do in many places, like many imitations. The apples can be as much as 3 dollars each. If you plan to buy a gift for a teacher like me, you might do best to purchase non-perishable chocolates.